What is the point of discussing politics in our apparently post-truth world?
Particularly among the young, there is a sense that the discussion of politics is an increasingly isolating experience. This isolation, heightened under the influence of social media, has created a climate in which our experience of ideas, beliefs, and prejudices are more parochial than ever before. I worried when I came to the university that in such a climate the stories I had heard of the ‘snowflake’ generation would ring true, and that individuals would be maligned for challenging the consensus. How joyous it was then to discover the FXU Politics Society and its regularly held discourse events.
The word ‘discourse’ itself has a Socratic appeal: the dialogic nature of the Socratic method in which participants are asked a series of questions in order to interrogate their claims about the world serves to elucidate and irritate in equal measure. Indeed, the blithe questioning of Socrates proved such an irritant to the ancient Athenians that they put him to death for it. However, there is no hemlock to be found on our campus. Although having one’s convictions questioned is uncomfortable, it forces us to perpetually confront and defend ideas that many of us presume is a given. The greatest virtue of discourse is in its vexing us from complacency.
The range of discourses over this academic year have been refreshingly eclectic. Whether it be social progress in Saudi Arabia, the victims of politics, or the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, each discourse highlights new questions and differing world views for our consideration and scrutinisation. The scope of discussion is widened when events are held in collaboration with other societies such as the History Society, Afro-Caribbean Society, and RAD. These collaborative projects show the discourse’s virtue as a forum in which to share common experiences. Most of us grow up in relatively narrow cultural milieus, and it has been most striking for me to hear the array of stories that people have offered, causing me to question some of my own convictions.
Underpinning all of this questioning is a fundamental respect for one another. Thanks to masterful moderation by the society committee members and its president, Joe Ward, all participants have an opportunity to speak and to debate in a polite and civil environment. There can be a tendency at events like these for the loudest or most eloquent voices to carry disproportionate power (myself, in all likelihood, being guilty of this), but the climate that the committee continues to uphold is one of mutual respect in which the less vocal yet no less political are on an equal footing with even the most rhapsodic of orators.
At times, the constant discussion and debate of political ideas can seem like an unending task. The use of such an exercise is not always so apparent, but considering that our view of the world is constructed by our experience, it makes groups such as the Politics Society all the more crucial because they offer a chance to be exposed to a plurality of ideas.
That responsibility can seem futile in our current times. After all, what’s the point in challenging ideas if individuals are only to become more steadfast in their beliefs? Despite this, it is my belief that there is intrinsic value in the discourses that the Politics Society offers, regardless of whether it changes mind. What matters is that people are wise enough to consider discordant points of view, and to challenge the arguments on their own merits.
So, it seems that the task laid at the feet of the FXU Politics Society is a Sisyphean one, regardless of how far up the mountain the boulder is rolled, it shall roll straight back down again; no matter how much they try to open the discourse to all, the society can never truly arrive at any truth on which we can all agree. However, to the benefit of all politically and socially minded students at our university, it is clear that the FXU Politics Society imagine Sisyphus happy, and continue to furnish our minds with the tools we need to be honest, rational thinkers.
More about the FXU politics society:
The FXU Politics Society are a social group that organises; regular nights out, discourses and events that celebrate the art and science of politics. In a world where the issues are global, the conversation starts right here. Expect passion, dedication and humour as we challenge the status-quo and celebrate diversity in all forms. Our end of year ball and trip abroad are well known across campus and are part of the rich FXU tradition which make up the tapestry of our members’ student experience. We’re open to all and want to hear from you. Get in contact. Get active. Get political.